Elie's coming home today - through a series of complex twists, he is supposed to travel down to a large southern base to be one of the commanders of a preparation course training new commanders. It's a three week stint. One week training Elie on what he has to do, two weeks being the commander of the course.
Then it's back up north to rejoin his unit for training, then back in the center, this time near Jerusalem, on a checkpoint. That's how he will finish his army service. That's the plan, or was, or will be. The one great truth of the army is that no matter what they tell you will be, when it will be, where and how, tomorrow that will change.
"So you're coming home today?" I asked him this morning.
Elie explained that most soldiers leave late in the afternoon and get home in the evening. For him, living where we do, he has to take a bus to Tel Aviv and another to Jerusalem and another to our home. He gets home very late.
"I'm not sure what's happening Sunday," he told me. Sunday he was supposed to travel south to the base; return on Tuesday. Wednesday he was supposed to go north for the day and return that night, finally starting his training for the Commanders Preparation Course the following Sunday.
"They need me here. They're going to have a big problem if I go to <southern base>. And I have orders to go to the <southern base>. They need me in two places and I can't be in both at the same time."
"So what happens now?" I asked.
"They have to decide."
"Which do you want?" I asked.
He was silent for a moment and then finally responded. "I think <southern base>. It would be nice to rest."
While he would be in charge of the soldiers as they go through the preparation course gearing up to the Commanders Course, Elie's life would be relatively easy. He would be responsible for some of their training, but also for helping decide who goes and who stays (many are rejected before the course begins and many choose not to stay because the training is hard). But there are many who assist; these soldiers will become commanders, as Elie was trained.
When there is an incident, as there was with Elie's unit in Jerusalem a bit over a year ago, it is the commanders and the officers who raise their guns and fire. When Elie went with a group of soldiers earlier this week for a parting vacation from the army, it was Elie, the commander, who took a gun along. The others were free to climb and swim, while Elie and another few guarded.
Their training during this course is intense. Physical and mental. Tests for intelligence and stamina. They learn navigation beyond anything taught to non-commanders. They learn to shoot weapons beyond their M16. Each of these are taught by experts. It is Elie's job to teach some, train some, be counselor and companion some and guide the group from expert to expert. In between, he would be free to "play on the computer. It would be nice to be in <southern base>."
Elie began his training almost three years ago on this base and spent almost a full year during his various levels of training. It is very far from home and to some extent it is coming home, or at least visiting home one last time before he leaves the army.
I sometimes feel very old when I see my son and think of the lessons he has yet to learn; the understanding he has yet to develop. He knows that he is needed in two places. What he doesn't recognize, perhaps it is the folly of youth, is that there should be great joy in knowing that you are needed, even if you are over-needed.
Where will Elie be next week? I asked myself this question so many times over the last few years...right now, I've come to the wonderful place where I can feel that wherever it is, is okay with me (and him).
May it come in safety and health. May it come in the knowledge that what he does, no matter where he does it, serves his people and his nation.